The history of animals is the final frontier of the historical discipline, a discipline that has traditionally been concerned with human ideas, human activity and human development. Meanwhile, animals have always been historical actors. Their interaction with one another and people has shaped the common history of all species. To understand how nonhumans have shaped North American entertainment Susan Nance has turned to the circuses of the 19th century. The paradox of commercial circuses was this: such companies offered the public idealized animal behaviour in narrative shows that asserted human dominance over the natural world. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, circus staff realized their livelihood was dependent upon animal power they barely controlled.

Susan Nance is a historian of communication and live performance, and Associate Professor of History at the University of Guelph. She is the author of How the Arabian Nights Inspired the American Dream, 1790-1935 (University of North Carolina Press, 2009) and Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and Business in the American Circus (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). Susan is currently working on a new book, Born to Buck: Rodeo Rough Stock and the Myths of the West, that takes her questions about how animal life in modernity to the North American West. The book asks how it was that, for many people, to be “Western” in the 19th and 20th centuries was about demonstrating particular kinds of relationships to horses, cattle, and the land.

The Shannon Lectures in History is a series of thematically linked public lectures offered annually at Carleton University made possible through the Shannon Donation, a major anonymous gift from a friend of the Department of History